Joe Klein: Newt’s Kids-as-Janitors Plan Too Narrow

We know by now that Newt Gingrich thinks he’s smart. And we know there are plenty of people in the corporate media who believe the same thing. How do they show their love for the brainy Republican presidential candidate? Time‘s Joe Klein shows the way in this week’s issue (12/19/11) of the magazine. He doesn’t think Gingrich should be president, but he does think Gingrich is full of interesting ideas.

Well, what about that plan to have kids work as janitors cleaning their schools? Klein’s problem with it is that it doesn’t go far enough:

I’ve known him for 25 years. I’ve had more creative policy conversations with him than with any other elected politician (with the possible exception of Bill Clinton). He is one Republican who is legitimately interested in improving the lives of the poor–although his ideas, which almost always involve market incentives, are quite different from the suffocating paternalism that many Democrats favored until Clinton came along. As early as 1990, Gingrich was paying poor children in Atlanta $2 for every book they read. He also proposed paying foreign-language-speaking students to tutor their English-speaking classmates in their native languages. He also proposed giving every literate child in the poorest neighborhoods a laptop. His recent idea of paying poor kids to help clean their schools–which has been the subject of a shrill, silly gust of liberal ire–is more of the same. It’s a good idea, which would be much better if it were expanded to all public middle and high schools, with the work seen as an unpaid form of public service, a way to build community spirit and teach civic responsibility.

It calls to mind Paul Krugman’s line about Gingrich–that he’s “a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.”

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.